Since June 2012 the Rohingya have been subject to an intense spate of inter-communal violence and state-sanctioned persecution in Myanmar (Burma). Reports of untold deaths, thousands of homes being destroyed, and tens of thousands of Rohingya being displaced have coincided with a time of great change for the country as it transitions to democracy.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from Rakhine State in western Burma, and have been acknowledged by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. For decades, the estimated 800,000 population from Rakhine State has confronted restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage, education, and worship. In 1982 the Government of Burma enacted the ‘Burma Citizenship Law’ constitutionally excluding the Rohingya people from citizenship, making them a stateless people. At the heart of the tension lies a contested history of the origins of the Rohingya. The Burmese government considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, as the eighth most populated country in the world, is estimated to be host to over 200,000 Rohingya refugees. Whilst many refugees have resided in Bangladesh since 1978, with another key migration in 1991, the recent arrival of those fleeing persecution from Burma has stirred ongoing tensions. Competition over scarce resources and employment is said to have fueled these tensions between local residents and the Rohingya. This, along with the Government of Bangladesh’s suspension of humanitarian aid in refugee camps in July 2012, prompted my investigations about the protection needs of the Rohingya.
After making research inquiries into the consequences of forced migration on both the Rohingyas and the local Bangladesh host population in the Cox’s Bazar District of southern Bangladesh, I met a community with a resounding plea for international help and for others to know the Rohingya story.
One young man, Hamid, wrote this letter, and requested his testimony be shared.
[Editor's note: Where marked, the text below is expedited for Hamid's security. Grammar has been altered for ease of reading. In all other respects this is an unedited translation of Hamid's letter. ]
Who I am
I finished my primary study in U Hla Pae village and continued my high school in Buthidaung Township. After I finished my study, I continued to study politics. However I could not live in my hometown and had to flee to Bangladesh, and am now living in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh government also arrested me here with illegal entry to Bangladesh from Myanmar. It is very difficult to get a job here as an illegal immigrant. We are neither accepted by the Bangladesh government nor Myanmar government. We cannot go back to Myanmar. We would like to request to the international community to show us a peaceful place. I am here now for 5 months. I came here to save my life and feed myself. Because there are so many Rohingya in Bangladesh, we only get work once a week. We do not know what to do. People coming from Myanmar are now starving. These people get food once a day only. The Bangladesh government also arrests them. These people cannot live in cities so they have to stay in countryside villages. My hope is to get donations from rich countries to feed us. [sentence excluded for confidentiality]. I am very thankful and grateful that you listen to our news. I cannot give information about us because I cannot get in contact with any NGOs.
Reality behind the Taunggot event
A group of 52 Muslim pilgrims from Yangon, former capital of Myanmar travelled to the cities in Rakhine state with the purpose of religious activities. For their activities, they had to stay for 45 days in different cities and travelled to Yangon through Taunggot. Taunggot is a crosslink city between Rakhine state and Yangon division. On the way back to Yangon on 3rd June 2012, a Rakhine mob attacked them in Taunggot highway. The mob was so cruel that the pilgrim group was killed inhumanly. They were beaten in head till their brains came out, and slaughtered. That night, the Rakhine mob openly celebrated their successful killings with music and alcohol in Taunggot with the presence of local authorities.
Reality about the story in Kyauk Ni Maw (Than Dwe)
In Kyauk Ni Maw, a Rakhine girl was in love with a Kaman Muslim boy since their high school. There was another Rakhine boy who loved this Rakhine girl. The two lovers broke up for some reason. In general, Rakhine girls were not allowed to have affairs with Muslims in Rakhine state. Therefore some Rakhines made a plan to kill that girl for not loving someone of the same race ([the] Rakhine boy) and murdered her inhumanly. After she was murdered, her body was left closer to the Muslim village and accused her former lover, the Muslim boy, as the rapist and murderer and arrested him. However according to initial medical report, she was not raped at all. Together with him, two of his Muslim friends were also arrested with the same accusation. With that news, some Rakhine extremists distributed pamphlets to instigate the anger and hatred against Muslims among the Rakhine community.
Reality behind the events at Myauk-O, Kyauk Phyu and Kyauk Taw
In Myauk-O, the number of Rakhine villages is more than Muslim villages. Therefore Muslim population is much less than Rakhine population. Rakhine used their numbers as an advantage and killed Muslims above 4000 by using long knife and guns. Among the victims, 2500 were children and new born babies. Rakhines attached the new born babies at the edge of steel rods and put into fire. Many Muslim houses were also burnt down. Similar stories in Kyauk Phyu and Kyauk Taw as well.
Reality behind Sittwe’s crisis
In Sittwe, it started on 7 June 2012. The Rakhine started killing Muslims, burning the houses in Zalla Fara (a Muslim village) and all villagers were killed on that day. It continued to other Muslim villages such as Nazir Fara, Amala Fara, Hausha Fara, San Taw Laik, Bomu Rwar and Bo Pwa Fara with the combination of Rakhines, Police forces, NaSaKa (Burmese Border Security Forces), Lone Tein and Military forces. Rakhines used long knives and homemade guns while the government forces [used] guns to kill Muslims.
Muslims were burnt alive in their own houses and some were tied up while being burnt. Children and newborn babies were thrown into the river when the Rakhines got tired of stabbing with knives. Some of the children were also thrown into fire. All the government bodies in Sittwe were involved in helping the Rakhine mob to target Muslims. Rakhines had guns and together with Nasaka, Police and Lone Tein, they directly shot at Muslims. Those who were not killed and became homeless are in refugee concentration camps now.
Muslims from Sittwe tried to flee from their birth places to save their lives and travelled by five small boats to Bangladesh. However those five boats were not accepted by the Bangladesh government and were pushed back towards Burma. Among 5 boats, 3 boats were destroyed by NaSaKa with guns in the sea. The other 2 were also not lucky. There were few pregnant women in those 2 boats and they all died while trying to deliver the baby on the boat. The remaining Muslims were also shot dead by local security forces when they reached back to Rakhine state side.
Local security forces were famous for torturing and raping Muslim women previously. In this crisis, they did not stay behind doing all those atrocities towards Muslim girls. The government never take action for that. The monks also encouraged and instigated the Rakhines to kill Muslims. Moreover, the monks were involved by themself to kill and drive away Muslims from their land by changing their clothes to ordinary people.
Reality behind Maungdaw’s crisis
In Maungdaw, it was started on 8 June 2012. When the problem started in Maungdaw between Rakhine and Muslims, NaSaKa supported to first Rakhines to kill Muslims. When there was a big chance of a riot starting in Maungdaw, a Rakhine trashed a Muslim with his motor bike on 8 June 2012 at 12 pm. After hitting the Muslim, he ran away and the police came and arrested and tortured the victim instead of the Rakhine in the street where the intentional accident happened. When the Muslims (around 10) gathered to the event and asked the police why he was torturing and beating him instead of the Rakhine, the police left the scene with anger and the Muslim was escaped.
That day was Friday and therefore all Muslims go to mosque to pray Juamma at noon. During that time, the police and NaSaKa force arrived and waited outside till people came out from mosque and shot at Muslims and 2 Muslims died on the spot. When the police and NaSaKa fired shots into the group, people were dispersed and ran away in different directions. After that scene, the Rakhine went to a local mosque and fired it to burn it down. Muslim houses were also burnt down. As the officers shot fire into Muslims, some of them were seriously injured and some of them escaped to Bangladesh to save their life and to treat their injuries. Some are still in Chittagong continuing their treatment and some were dead with their injuries. Back in Maungdaw, NaSaKa threw some Muslim corpses into the river.
Reality behind Buthidaung’s crisis
In Buthidaung, there were no clashes yet between Rakhines and Muslims as the Rakhines are the minority there. The military station Sa Kha Ka group no 15 and Strategy group no 18 are trying to not have any clashes till today. However the commissioner from the police station commanded the police officers to arrest the educated Muslims from every village and kept them in police custody for 2 days and sent to jail. Some of the Muslims were tortured to death. The police are still arresting the known and rich Muslims and extorting money from them to release them from jails. If the demanded money cannot be provided, the Muslims were tortured inhumanely.
Recently the monks from Buthidaung called a meeting for Rakhines and made a secret plan to bring the guns from Sittwe together with Rakhines from there and stored in Buthidaung. The Muslims are afraid of the guns as they do not have anything to protect themselves. The local government also support the Rakhines and encourage them to attack and oppress Muslims. All of the police are Rakhines and therefore they do not show any mercy to shoot at Muslims. On 3 November 2012, the military seized 180 handmade guns from Rakhines in Buthidaung.
Law and Order in Rakhine State
In 1950s and 1960s, Muslims from Rakhine state from various cities entered to government posts after they finished their study. However now Muslims cannot enter to government jobs at all. Moreover they created different law and order for Muslims in the whole of Rakhine state. Muslims have to follow the rule strictly. No Rakhine has to follow that rule. Muslims cannot marry according to Islamic law. Muslims can only marry after paying 300,000 kyats to NaSaKa (Boarder security forces). Only Muslims who have money can marry and poor Muslims cannot. If anyone marries without getting permission from NaSaKa they can be sentenced to 5 years according to strict law. Rakhine people do not have such kind of rule. If Muslims have to visit to Maungdaw and Buthidaung, they have to get permission (called Form 4) from the authority. To obtain that form, 5000 kyats need to be paid and anyone who is caught travelling without that form, he/she will be sentenced to 4 years.
Moreover one cannot live in another house even in the same village without permission. Muslims cannot stay in their relatives’ house without any permission from the authority. Otherwise they will be fined 300,000 kyats. It is a very miserable life for Muslims in Rakhine state.
Four years ago, the police forces and NaSaKa forces went to villages in Buthidaung and Maungdaw and gathered all the young girls, young boys and women in police headquarters. They were raped, tortured and beaten inhumanely. Muslims are facing all difficulties to survive in Rakhine state.
Another important matter is that the authority is giving trouble with improper law to UNHCR and UNDP, with the accusation of sending the news of Rakhine state overseas, and sentenced to jails some staff. Those who sent information through the internet and mobile phone are sentenced to 45 years. Therefore some of the real news from Maungdaw and Buthidaung was not sent through internet and phone. Moreover the internet lines were filtered and closed not to be able to send the news. Therefore the international community do not get the real information of Rakhine state. Therefore I am trying now to send the news to international communities.
I hope this letter will reach everyone and after reading this, please help and sympathize to Muslims in Rakhine state.
This letter is directly translated from the original Burmese letter. Translated by Mohammed Anwar, the current president of the Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia.
This testimony is not necessarily representative of the researcher's views.